AS THEY flew to Srinagar on Tuesday morning, where a shutdown was being observed by local residents amid clashes with security forces, the first foreign delegation to visit Kashmir since the revocation of J&K’s special status by the Centre was busy browsing through a five-page brief on the state and the situation on the ground.
In the document titled ‘Briefing notes and background on Kashmir’, the government provided the visiting EU MPs a condensed account of events that unfolded in the Valley over the past three months.
It states that 91 per cent of Kashmir is now free of all restrictions but “keeping in mind the threat posed by terrorist organisations in using mobile connectivity to organise terror actions”, connectivity is being restored gradually. It adds: “76 out of 95 telephone exchanges are now functional.”
Stating that the government’s “full focus” is on ensuring normalcy, the brief notes: “Some restrictions on communications and preventive detentions have been made at the local level based on the ground situation with a view to maintain public law and order.”
The brief says that schools are open but makes no mention of colleges and businesses. Additionally, it states that over the past fortnight, 2,50,000 patients have visited hospitals and that the government is allowing journalists to carry out work through a “media centre”.
The brief for the EU delegation begins with an introduction to J&K’s relationship with India, starting with the document of accession. “Lord Mountbatten accepted accession as unconditional and complete,” it reads. On Article 370, the brief states: “Article 370 was not mandated by any multilateral body or agreement. Its existence guaranteed neither economic debt nor social justice.”
The EU MPs were in Kashmir for a day. Asked if the time would be sufficient to observe the situation, one of the delegates told The Indian Express: “This is not a very long visit. Let’s hope so.”
Even as the MPs arrived, clashes between stone-throwing youths and security forces were reported from several parts of Srinagar and other areas. A strict shutdown was observed as a mark of protest, with the customary morning market remaining closed for the first time in a month.
Health officials said that four people sustained pellet injuries in the clashes and were treated at Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital.
Establishments in the business centre of Lalchowk and other areas were shut. “There is no shutdown call by anyone. When I heard that a delegation was coming, I decided not to open my shop,” said Mohammed Yasir, a businessman in Srinagar. “No one opened their shop in Lalchowk today. It is our way of protest.”
While public transport stayed off the roads, movement of private transport was also thin. Reports of complete shutdown were received from other districts of the Valley.
After landing in Srinagar amid high security, with roads leading out of the airport cordoned off by police, the MPs’ first meeting was held at the 15 Corps headquarters at Badamibagh Cantonment, where a presentation was made for the group focussing on cross-border terrorism and infiltration. Later, one section of the group went sightseeing in Srinagar and the other met civil society members at the Lalit hotel at Gupkar.
The MPs then moved to Dal lake and boarded shikaras. Spanish MP Hermann Tertsch told reporters, “It’s a good occasion to get some news of what is happening. We are (also) conscious that we are kept away from some people.”
The delegation was briefed by state government officials for two hours over a dinner meeting about “Article 370, new developmental vision of Government of India in J&K and disruption in public life by terrorist attacks”. The meeting was headed by state Chief Secretary B V R Subrahmanyan. DGP Dilbag Singh also addressed the group.